It’s that time of year when many of us are getting ready to head to the airport and hop on a plane en route to family and friends for the holidays. Air travel, like many modern conveniences, is a perk easy to take for granted despite its relatively short history. A visual trip through the collections of the Prints & Photographs Division illustrates some of the developments in air travel over the past century.
In 1914 Tony Jannus became the first person to pilot a scheduled passenger flight, from St. Petersburg to Tampa, Florida. Taken sometime between 1910 and 1915, the photo above shows Jannus on the left, seated next to Albert Berry. Berry incidentally takes some credit for another first – he was by many accounts one of two thrill-seekers to successfully pioneer jumping from a plane!
The photo below, taken to mark the 25th anniversary of the first commercial flight, shows a model of the Benoist plane flown by Jannus. The relatively primitive design of passenger planes operating in the 1910s may provide some perspective for those of us used to complaining about the discomforts of air travel today.
Contrast the open cockpit of the Benoist with the spacious interior setup of this restored American Airlines Douglas DC-3. The model was used by American, TWA, United and other airlines in the 1930s and 1940s, and could travel from the west to east coast in about 15 hours. So, roomier seats, but a longer journey than we’re used to in 2018.
First lady Eleanor Roosevelt is pictured below adding some detailing to a new Douglas airliner in 1940.
Mid-century travel posters used by airlines to advertise their services made air travel look glamorous. They also illustrate the arrival of jet passenger travel in the 1950s and 1960s. Amazingly, some of the planes depicted on the posters from this period start looking a lot like the ones we fly today — note what appears to be a Boeing 707 jet on the Braniff International Airways poster as compared with the propeller-driven Lockheed Constellation on the TWA poster. Somehow I don’t think the plane shown on the Braniff ad will be a far cry from the one I plan to board next week!
- See additional images of Jannus in action, as well as a dramatic shot of a plane being pulled out of the water.
- Browse additional posters made for Braniff International Airways.
- View photographs of airports documented by photographer Carol M. Highsmith.
- Fans of early aviation may want to read about and view the Wright Brothers Negatives